Altered Ambitions: When Your Pursuits Leave You Stressed Out

 

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I wonder what I would have done back then.

Would I have heard the counter-cultural man as He promoted turning away from ritual and embracing a repurposed heart? Laying aside the security of rules, clinging to repentance and grace? Grasping the new Gospel so tightly it changed my ambitions and my relationships?

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” He challenged.

And He’s still right here — warning against materialism and daring me to release anxiety over what others think.

And I’m still here wondering if He really can be trusted.

“Here is the bottom line: do not worry about your life. Don’t worry about what you will eat or what you will drink. Don’t worry about how you clothe your body… Consider the lilies of the field and how they grow. They do not work or weave or sew, and yet their garments are stunning

Do not consume yourselves with questions… Outsiders make themselves frantic over such questions; they don’t realize that your heavenly Father knows exactly what you need.”

He sees right through me, for I’m the one consumed with questions. I’m the one who over-thinks. I’m the one slipping into that frantic state He warns against.

To ignore my insecurities, I rank myself and those around me. I question His goodness in creating me and writing my story, and I numb my heart with what will not last. I wonder if He’ll really be my Provider for the deepest, most secret needs… Wonder if He’ll really be my Protector, shielding me from all that’s not tangible.

Have you been there?

In that frenzy, when I’m ranking and questioning and doubting, I feel the shame taunting me. I know this can’t be the plan. And then I remember them — the first people whose shame drove them into hiding and made them frantic. With trembling hands, they pieced together the very first articles of clothing to cover their darkness, the very dark He was still warning against in AD 30.

“So if your eye is well and shows you what is true, then your whole body will be filled with light. But if your eye is clouded or evil, then your body will be filled with evil and dark clouds. And the darkness that takes over the body of a child of God who has gone astray—that is the deepest, darkest darkness there is.”

Do you see the irony? The first item humanity created to cover our shame has become an object of worship. Am I so far removed from their utter regret that I forget I’m in the dark?

For some, yes, it’s clothing. For others of us it’s achievement… and travel… and the right body… and control… and sarcasm… and kids who make us look good… and anything that numbs us to the reality we can not face.

Will you brave the dark of your own heart?
Will you pick up your anxiety and worry and misguided pursuits?
Will you throw the mess into the shadow of the cross and wait for healing?

I promise you — He’s right there offering rescue. He’s ready to redeem the darkness in the crevices of your mind and heart that you see no way around. He’s waiting to alter your ambitions, alter your focus.

“He reached down and drew me from the deep, dark hole where I was stranded, mired in the muck and clay. With a gentle hand, He pulled me out to set me down safely on a warm rock; He held me until I was steady enough to continue the journey again.” Psalm 40:2

Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ…


All unidentified scripture in this post is from Matthew 6.
Photo by Drazen Biljak on Unsplash

Table Talk: A Little Parenting Advice

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We saw A. R. Gurney’s The Dining Room with our kids last weekend. In short, the off-broadway play speaks to the dying culture of the upper-middle class WASP in the United States.

Numerous scenes unfold around the same dining room table, portraying different families who owned the house throughout the years. Their issues overlap and intertwine while touching on realities many wish were not true even today — controlling mothers, manipulation, comparison and choices made to keep up with others, strained conversations in which family members don’t feel safe, infidelity.

Sadly, the dining room is a place of irony. Boasting of potential dialogue and possible connection, it sometimes serves as just a hope for too many families to mention.

What culture have you created around your table?

In one scene, a woman and a craftsman are under the table, looking at how it’s constructed, surmising exactly what needs to be repaired.

Dare we look and examine, really examine, what needs to be repaired around our table?

What would my kids say if I asked them?

That scene uncovered a memory for me. It uncovered a question, too. My godfather, a hobby carpenter, built me a hope chest when I was a teen. If you open the lid to the tangible dreams, you’ll find Proverbs 3:5-6 carved into the corner:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Not bad advice for a girl on the edge of adulthood.

But the table? I wonder… did he etch something under there, too?!


As a wedding gift, “Uncle” Al promised to craft us whatever I desired. It was an easy decision. I ripped a page from a Pottery Barn catalogue and mailed it to his Ohio home.

Post-honeymoon, we drove from the east coast to Indiana, stopping to pick up our treasure. We marveled at the work of my godfather’s hands. Only in my dreams could I have owned a Pottery Barn table, but he made reality better with love and intention carved and sanded and polished throughout.


So did he? Did he etch something under the table, too? Had I missed it for the past twenty years?!

Late last Friday night, we arrived home from the play, and I crawled right under that table.

Sure enough… My goodness… How had I missed this?

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Phil 4, Uncle Alan Gratz, July 13 1996

Philippians 4? All 23 verses?! He must have known a lifetime of marriage and family-ness would require an entire chapter of truth. Would demand heaps of direction. I understand that now.

I grabbed my Bible, wondering what wisdom I should have been heeding all these years. But it was perfect timing. Our timeless God gave Uncle Al a message for me twenty years ago, knowing I’d need it at this season of life… at this stage of parenting.

5 Keep your gentle nature so that all people will know what it looks like to walk in His footsteps. The Lord is ever present with us. Don’t be anxious about things; instead, pray. Pray about everything. He longs to hear your requests, so talk to God about your needs and be thankful for what has come. And know that the peace of God (a peace that is beyond any and all of our human understanding) will stand watch over your hearts and minds in Jesus, the Anointed One.

Finally, brothers and sisters, fill your minds with beauty and truth. Meditate on whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is good, whatever is virtuous and praiseworthy. Keep to the script: whatever you learned and received and heard and saw in me—do it—and the God of peace will walk with you. Philippians 4:5-9


To every mom and dad out there —

5 Clothe yourself with gentleness, for you’re reflecting the Maker to your children… even on weekday mornings before school.

Get real about your anxiety regarding your children’s path. Talk about it and surrender your fear to your Rescuer. Admit you need to be rescued and accept that your kids will need to be rescued, too. 

Don’t resent how God has created them. Don’t apologize for this to others, either. Be grateful your sons and daughters are already fulfilling God’s purposes for their lives (even though they might not know it yet).

It’s hard to believe, but you can actually experience peace in your thought-life and in your emotions. Jesus Himself is standing guard over your minds and hearts.

Pursue beauty and truth. Walk away from the comparison game and don’t lean into lies. Choose to fill your mind (and eyes and ears) with what is right and true and good… even when posts that breed insecurity pop up in your social media feed.

Live your story — not someone else’s.


Maybe you’re not a parent. Maybe your internal drama doesn’t happen around the dining room table but in trendy eateries with friends. Whether you’ve chosen your community, or it was chosen for you, there’s more than enough grace.

There’s grace for yourself, too.